Every parent and grandparent today has to face the fact that we now live in a world filled with potential danger for our children and grandchildren. Gone are the days when children could freely roam their neighborhoods with friends, playing outdoors or at the homes of friends with little supervision. Today it is vitally important that adults know the whereabouts of their children at all times. Furthermore we have the responsibility to teach our children in a non-threatening way, how to stay safe and do all they can to protect themselves when in public places. In general, children should not interact with strangers—people they do not know. By definition a stranger is anyone not known. We don’t want our children to be unnecessarily afraid of others, but it is very important to let them know that there could be strangers who would want to do them harm. Here is a simple list of guidelines for safety in public places:
Teach children never to talk to or approach a stranger, especially if they are alone. They should never take anything from a stranger including a ride home, candy or an offer to pet a cute little animal. Children should not be left alone under any circumstances in public places such as shopping malls, parking lots, etc.
Families should have a code word that is used whenever a person other than the parents needs to take them somewhere. The code word should be chosen, practiced and given only by the parents to a designated family friend.
Children should know their complete names, addresses and phone numbers, should know how to use the telephone and how to dial 911.
Children should be taught to avoid situations where they would be in public alone. They should play, walk to and from school, etc. with several others.
If approached by a stranger children should be taught NO, GO, and YELL. That is, they should say no to any advance, remove themselves from the situation as quickly as possible and if necessary scream, yell, and protect themselves in the loudest manner possible.
Children should be taught to always get permission from their parents before going from one play area to another. There is safety in familiar places and danger in unfamiliar ones.
In an emergency situation children should know to go directly to a business or other “safe zone” where they can seek help.
A big part of ensuring safety for our children is in raising their awareness. Self confidence will come as children take part in family safety discussions, do some role playing of proper behavior in a time of danger, and learn to speak clearly, firmly and loudly when the need arises. After teaching children the basics of stranger danger safety it is also important to let children know that their basic instincts are often their best protection. If something doesn’t “seem right”, it probably isn’t.
Do your children know who is and who isn’t a stranger? Have them take the stranger danger quiz found at www.pediatrics.about.com. This quiz shows a sequence of adults and teens, some who look scary and dangerous and some who don’t. The point is to teach children that some dangerous people make an effort to look totally friendly and harmless. You can also look at www.kidpower.org and www.mcgruff.org for child-friendly access to stranger danger tips. It is so important to give our children the support and information they need to keep them safe, while being very careful not to build unnecessary fear and distrust into their character. Use common sense as you teach children the things they need to know about safety in public places. Empower your children to make safe choices and let them know that you are protecting them by having a family plan for their safety in all circumstances.